The number of people aged 65 or older caught shoplifting in Tokyo has been rising, with the elderly outnumbering those 19 or younger in 2012 for the first time since 1989, when officials started compiling comparable date.
Police officials believe shoplifting by the elderly is on the rise because more seniors are living alone and in poverty without relatives to support them.
In 1999, Tokyo police arrested 336 seniors for shoplifting, accounting for 6.0 percent of all shoplifters. The number jumped to 3,321 in 2012, making up 24.5 percent of the total.
In contrast, 2,092 people 19 or younger were caught in 1999, accounting for 37.6 percent of the total. For 2012, the number in this age group came to 3,195, accounting for 23.6 percent. The number for 2012 represented a decrease by more than 1,000 from 2011.
Among the elderly arrested for shoplifting in 2012, 72.7 percent were unemployed and 11.3 percent were on welfare.
Of them, 32.6 percent said they committed the crime because of lack of money and 32.4 percent said they had no one to turn to for help.
Food made up about 70 percent of the stolen items.
Tetsuya Fujimoto, a criminology expert at Chuo University, said more support is needed for the elderly to prevent them from turning to crime. He also said prisons should do more to inform inmates about welfare services for when they are released.